Melanie Noble-Couchman

Melanie Noble-Couchman understands how important public assistance can be. She’s been there herself.

“I really understand the hardships – because I’ve lived them – that people go through,” she said recently, “which is why I have such a passion for education.”

Noble-Couchman and her current husband operate a family foundation that gives grants to organizations, such as the Sandy Springs Education Force, that support programs in the schools.

Her work promoting educational programs in Sandy Springs and her efforts to aid people in need led to Noble-Couchman’s selection to win the city of Sandy Springs Humanitarian award for 2011. She received the award during a City Hall ceremony on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

She feels passionate about those programs, the 61-year-old said, because she’s seen the difference education made in her life. When Noble-Couchman was 21, she said, her husband abandoned her. She had an 18-month-old child, another on the way and, because she had dropped out of college to marry, no college degree. Eventually, although she kept working, she couldn’t afford her rent and was evicted from her apartment.

“That’s when I went on public assistance,” she said. “Food stamps. Medicaid. I got a cash grant every month to live on.”

She lived in Buffalo, N.Y., at the time. She continued working and she took college courses at night. Eventually, she graduated and worked her way off public assistance.

In 1978, she moved to metro Atlanta, where she met David Couchman. The two married in 1983. He was in information technology and together they started a telecom company. The timing was good and the company prospered. Noble-Couchman went back to school in 1999 and earned a master’s degree in social work in 2003. She now is a licensed master of social work.

They sold their company in 2001. With proceeds from the sale, they set up the Couchman Noble Foundation. “Our foundation is set up to support families with programs that are hands-on and produce results,” she said. “We want individuals who are having a hard time to really believe in themselves and to know the help is there, but the bulk of the work has to come from them.”

She thinks there’s more for Sandy Springs foundations to do, as well. Family foundations based in Sandy Springs have more than $1 billion in assets, Noble-Couchman said, but a large portion of their grants go to programs outside the city.

“The money is going downtown,” she said. “It’s going to national organizations.”

Noble-Couchman thinks the foundations should do more at home to help the schools and people in need. Sandy Springs, she said, boasts two fine public high schools, but also contains areas that need help.

“If we can strengthen the schools, we feel we can have a tremendous impact on families and the community,” she said.

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.